“Corpus Christi” and the Importance of Playing Devil’s Advocate

So just this week the school I graduated from three years ago, the not so esteemed Tarleton State University, has decided to ban a student production of the controverisal play “Corpus Christi.” The play, written by Terrence McNally depicts Jesus and the Apostles as gay men, and deals with issues like gay marriage, and sexual jealousy.

Tarleton State University is nestled comfortably between Fort Worth and Brownwoood, and is right in the heart of central Texas, a.k.a. “Conservative-ville.” So it is not surprising that the play was met with protest, and anger by both students and parents, and people in the community. What is perhaps surprising is the amount of bigotry and animosity directed at the school, the Theatre Department, and the students involved in the play. It may not be surprising that Tarleton decided to ban the production but it is dissapointing, and to some extent cowardly. If Tarleton chooses to ban one play due to controversy how easy will it be to ban anything that students disagree with?

Earlier this week, before the controversy picked up steam, my father called me and asked about the play. My Dad is a devout Christian, and was offended by the production. Just to play Devil’s Advocate ( that is where you take a different opinion just because it is more interesting) I challenged my Dad by saying that “Corpus Christi” may be offensive, but it is also art, and one purpose of art is to challenge conventional wisdom. Jesus may not have been gay ( I don’t think that he was) but it is interesting to put Jesus in different contexts and see how he would have handled different issues. Their are some contradiction in church rules and orthodoxy and Jesus forgiveness of sins.

Later this week my wife came home from Tarleton, where she works, and does her Masters studies, and told me how upset she was about students protesting the play. Once again I decided to play Devil’s Advocate and took the opposite approach. I told her that Tarleton is partially funded by private money and students have a right to know where there tuition dollars are going, and what type of “art” is on display. I also told her that although we have free speech in this country there is nothing wrong with people protesting and using public influence to get their way on issues. In both arguments, I was correct, and so how is this possible?

Many years ago I took college debate, and one of the first things that they teach you is to look at your oppositions argument and examine it carefully. Only by knowing what one side is thinking can you poke holes in their argument, and find the holes in yours… But playing Devil’s Advocate has another advantage. In the process of looking at things from the other side sometimes you become genuinely convinced that your first opinion, or interpretation was wrong. This type of thinking outside the box is a valuable commodity, and one sadly lacking in today’s culture ( just look at T.V. talks shows and Washington).

Initially I was kind of appalled by “Corpus Christi” myself. Not only do I not think Jesus is gay but the bible explicitly condemns homosexuality in first Corninthians. There is, furthermore, a belief that McNally may be using his play to rile up Christians and use controversy to increase publicity and revenues (McNally, who is a Christian, denies this). But after thinking about the opposition side I began to realize that many things that are controversial, particularly when it comes to art, have value and resonance. Aristotle said the purpose of art “was to please and to instruct.” Perhaps by showing Jesus in a different light we can come to appreciate him more, and perhaps homosexuals, viewing a play like this, can come away with a new interpretation or appreciation of Jesus. Since I haven’t seen the play I can not say this is true. “Corpus Christi” could be utter garbage for all I know. But it should not be condemned on site.

Tarleton State made a mistake in pulling this play. It would have been more interesting to see the play, and have a discussion about its themes, instead of everyone having an argument about their own idealogies. Part of living in a free society is that we have to allow for some messages we disagree with, and when we are tempted to close our minds and see things only in one way, it is precisely then that we should take a step back and look at the other side.

Playing Devil’s Advocate is not a waste of time. Feel free to challenge people’s ideas, whether or not you agree with them. Only by looking at how people view things, and how we view them can we truly learn anything. Different persepective are what made this country great. People should never lose sight of that.


Jack B.


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